This is the first in a series of posts which will be discussing the Holy Days of the Old Testament in respect to their meaning in terms of prophecy and relevance for the Church today. I have chosen to begin with Passover, not merely because it was the first Holy Day (not including the weekly Sabbath) to be ordained by God, but because of my opinion that it is one of the most misunderstood days by Christians, in general.
However, before I delve into the actual meat of this post, I must begin by acknowledging that I approach the subject with a theological assumption. I view all of scripture through the assumption of a temple theology perspective. What is temple theology? Temple theology is the perspective that all of scripture is directly or indirectly shaped and formed by the cultic symbols, festivals, laws, regulations and practices associated with worship at the tabernacle and temple of God. It assumes that all of creation was not imagined and brought in reality to be a temporary weigh station as God dealt with sin to ultimately be destroyed so that the elect may live in Heaven for all eternity; but rather that God intended the whole of creation to be his dwelling place or if you like temple. This perspective assumes that all of God’s actions and workings within creation are to bring about that reality. As a result, the understanding of what the festivals mean will be understood only through the lens of temple theology.
Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding (and the one I will be dealing with in this post) shared by Christians, in general, is the idea that Passover has to do with the forgiveness of sins. This, I suspect, is because of the connection of the Crucifixion of Jesus with Passover (I will be dealing with this in the next post). However, in reality Passover simply does not have anything to do with forgiveness but rather the miraculous exodus of an enslaved people, namely Israel. Yet, it is imperative to understand that Israel was not in slavery as result of any sin. Indeed the Biblical narrative gives a totally different picture. The book of Exodus gives this explanation:
Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly. (Ex 1:6-14)
The Israelites were enslaved because God had begun to keep his promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as “numerous as the stars in the sky.” (Gen 26:4) The Israelites simply multiplied at a rate that concerned the Egyptian hierarchy. The Egyptians decided that slavery was the manner in which they would deal with the perceived threat. Sin had absolutely nothing to do with the decision. In fact, God had prophesied this would occur long before there was a nation to even sin. He tells Abraham, ““Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” (Gen 15:13) The verse in no way suggests or implies the reason for the enslavement and mistreatment is the result of sin.
Passover, then, is not a day concerning the forgiveness of sins. It is rather a day of liberation, much like our fourth of July, here in the United States. In fact, on the night of liberation from Egypt, the people were to eat quickly and be dressed to leave immediately. (Ex 12:11) The Passover was intended to be a commemorative affair of the day that God miraculously brought Israel out of slavery. It is the day when Israel became the people of God, under his reign and governmental leadership.
So why does Jesus associate his death with commemorative Holy Day? Jesus’s death and resurrection is the inauguration of God’s kingdom on Earth. it is the moment in history when God frees his creation from the enslavement of death as the result of sin. It is the moment when creation is liberated and the cosmos is set to rights. The original Holy Day looked forward to the crucifixion of Jesus (the Passover lamb) and saw the redemption and liberation of all of creation.